I read an article in the NY Times this morning about Twitter’s presentation to the US Senate yesterday where they stated that only 200 false accounts were linked to the alleged Russian influence over the 2016 US presidential election. In essence, Twitter is claiming that just this small number of accounts were compromised. Senators were skeptical about this claim and protested that the company must do more to investigate the possible breach.
Yes. There is no question that corporate ethics come into play.
Mark Warner, a Democrat from Virginia, who seems to be a well-meaning representative is asking that more be done. He said, “This raises at an even greater level the necessity that the American public has the ability to know when they are seeing a political ad, who’s behind it–particularly if it is being sponsored by foreign agents.”
What I see when I read this is a request for permission on behalf of the American people to continue their abdication of intellect. While I don’t mind the Senator asking for greater transparency, I don’t think the public is entitled to a “get out of jail free card” when it comes to evaluating the things we read on the internet–or anywhere. I get that his intentions are good, but he’s way off track. We are still responsible for how we take in information and interpret it.
Of course I want corporations to behave ethically.
I also acknowledge that we don’t know what is ethical in this situation. Twitter and bots and the easy access to political influence through these tools is new and there is no manual.
So then what?
I would rather see Senator Warner advocate for critical thinking instead of pretending that this new paradigm–one where bots tweet, and misinformation is as cheap as water used to be–is going to go away. To me this is a call to arms for education, debate, knowing how to ask questions, and perhaps more critically, how to evaluate answers.
This starts with every one of us, when we say “no” to blindly and mindlessly repeating so-called news. It means things like checking Snopes or Vmyths and also noticing whether the headline you just clicked on makes your blood pressure rise unnecessarily. It means slowing down, and fact checking. It means vetting your sources.
It also means supporting a liberal arts education, scientific research, and creative pursuit.
It means allowing space for students (which is just a fancy word for “humans”) to fail, because after all, from failure comes new learning, and a kind of critical awareness that can alert us to the times when something is amiss.
Now, I am not saying Twitter is off the hook here, but they could do their own critical thinking and come up with a code of ethics that they can stand behind.
Then it’s on us to decide if we are down with the Twitter code or not.